Thoughts of and for Beira. The terrible floods caused recently by Cyclone Ida in Zimbabwe and Mozambique have tragically inundated Beira, in the central region of the country, where the great Pungwe slides into the Indian Ocean. The Bents knew Beira in late 1891. Mabel Bent writes in her diary as their party heads down east to the sea, and home, from Umtali. Nature then, as now, cares nothing:
“[Wednesday, October 21st, 1891.] Ink all dried up. Hens too tough to eat. Rode among hills. I had a weary time as I had a toothache or neuralgia and felt many a time as if I would tie my horse to a tree and walk. We found no water for a long way; ridge after ridge we climbed, always hoping for water in the next valley. At last, having left the track to seek water, Theodore said, ‘We must go back to the last water’. But I cried, ‘Anything but to go back! I don’t care how far we go now onward to Beira’. ‘Very well. We’ll go on!’ said Theodore…” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 141)
At last the Bents reached the Pungwe. In their day the river was navigable the 40 km or so from Beira only as far as Mpanda’s village and Neves Ferreira – and then only in the right season – by a few small steamers (reminiscent of the ‘African Queen’ for those who know the book/movie). One of these was ‘The Agnes’: “a fine, comfortable, flat-bottomed vessel built after the style of those boats one meets with on European lakes. She is the property of Messrs. Johnson and Co.” (D.C. De Waal, (trans. J.H. Hofmeyr de Waal), ‘With Rhodes in Mashonaland’. 1896, Cape Town, page 142)
Mabel continues: “At 2 next day [15/16 November, 1891] we rowed in a boat with about 25 others to the ‘Agnes’ at Neves Ferreira and went ashore… We went on board about 6. There were only Mr. Maunde and ourselves 1st class, but we were not sorted into classes at all and masters and servants, black and white, all eat at the same table in relays, for the saloon is very small and cockroachey [sic]. At 8.30 the dozen mattresses were served out and I rigged up my hammock and we all slept on deck. I went to the saloon and Theodore held up my dressing gown, for there were people there, and I undressed and in the morning made my toilette in the same way. We started at 9, to stop at 12, but at 11 got stuck on sand, so had to stay till 8 when the tide rose. We reached Beira about 12. The river is not interesting, though here and there are pretty huts nestling among palms, bananas and mangroves. We saw many rhinoceri and only one crocodile. We crossed what seems a lake to get to Beira, a most horrid place with few houses and much sand.” (Mabel Bent’s ‘Chronicles’, Vol 2, Africa, page 158)
The popular Christian nurses Blennerhasset and Sleeman are a little more kindly about the place: “The said town [Beira]… may be described as a long flat reach of sand, over which a few tents were scattered. There were also two iron shanties, and that was all. The place looked, even from afar, the picture of desolation.” However they enjoyed the scene more two years later on their way out: “In 1893 we founds streets, stores, and charming houses of the American chalet type”. (R.A. Blennerhassett and L.A.L. Sleeman, ‘Adventures in Mashonaland, by Two Hospital Nurses’. 1893, London, pages 61, 324)
The Bents left poor Beira on the S.S. Norseman around 24th November 1891, for their home journey south and onwards to Cape Town and London.
The illustration is ‘The Agnes steaming up the Pungwe River’. From a sketch by ‘Mr. Doyle Glanville’. ‘The Illustrated London News’, 15 August 1891, page 202. Private collection.
Ships played a central role in the lives of the Bents; they were as familiar and essential to the couple as planes and airports are to us.
The Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings).
So let’s steam, then, into 2019 along one of the Bents’ favourite waterways – the narrow straits separating Rhodes from Marmaris and the Turkish coast – only the vessels they travelled on in their time were a little different than the Oceania cruise ship ‘Riviera’ shown in the rainbow (the photograph was taken from Rhodes, looking northish, and roughly from the area (‘Kum Burnú’) the Bents had their modest lodgings, in early 1885, being not allowed, as Christians, to overnight in the Old Town).
Mabel notes in her diary: “We are at a clean little inn in the separate village called Neo Marás, the Christian quarter quite close to the sandy and windmilly point Kum Burnú at the north of the isle. It is quite a little walk to the town where no one but Jew or Turk may remain after sun set… There are quantities of smooth black and white shingles which are extensively used for paving floors and court yards in all sorts of designs. The passage outside our door and the dining room too have very pretty patterns.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 108).
In early 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent arrived in Rhodian waters, via these extended straits in the photograph, from Alexandria, on the Austrian Lloyd ‘Saturno’ (1845 tons, built in 1868, in service until 1910), and left a few weeks later on the much smaller steamship ‘Ρούμελη’ (297 tons, 155 feet), which linked the smaller islands of the eastern Mediterranean. Originally named ‘Operculum’, and Clyde built, she comes into view several times in Mabel’s diary pages. She was ultimately broken up at Savona in 1933, a few years after Mabel’s death. In another twist of fate, the ‘Operculum’ also covered the South Arabian seas between Aden and Socotra, the setting for one of the last journeys Theodore Bent was to make, in early 1897, months before his death. How wonderful these old ships were, although Mabel was not so fond of this one:
“Well! The Roúmeli is a dirty little ship, and Theodore and I slept in the very smelliest cabin, destined for ladies by the English builders. As it was a passage room for all the passengers a quilt was hung across, but the steward was often within our side. At 11.30, two hours after we left Rhodes, we reached Simi and in the dark and by starlight I could see that we remained in a little land-locked bay for 2 or 3 hours. It looked lovely but no doubt by day it looks bare enough and like Chalki, which we got to about 7, a most hideous island, stony like Syra and not even the picturesque town to redeem it. We did not land there; there is a revolution about the tax on sponges and the Pasha of Rhodes was just going there so we came on to Nisiros, which we reached about 12.30.” (‘The Dodecanese; or Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks’, Archaeopress 2015, page 111).
If anyone has an illustration of the ‘Roúmeli’, please let us know!
All together, the Bents sailed over the rainbow here in these waters, between the tip of Rhodes and Marmaris, at least five times – check them out via the interactive map on our site.
The Bents embarked on a ‘fleet’ of ships during their twenty years of explorations to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Africa, from 1880 to 1900 (see the interactive maps on this site for additional details).
What follows is in the way of an haphazard flotilla of Bent vessels in no particular sequence. If you have any information, or better still, illustrations, do please contact us. (Scroll down to see a list of ships that will be added from time to time – anchors aweigh!)
The Bents’ Vessels No.1 – January/February 1891, the Castle Mail Packet Company Garth Castle
“We left England January 30th , that is to say Theodore and Mr. Robert Swan and I, bound for Mashonaland, and Mr. Graham who was going to accompany us as far as Kimberley. The ‘Garth Castle’ was a comfortable ship and with no adventures we reached Cape Town Thursday, February 19th.”
The Bents took about three weeks (30 Jan – 19 Feb 1891) to steam, with stops, from the Channel to Cape Town. The ‘Garth Castle’ (1) was built in 1880 by John Elder & Co. at Glasgow “with a tonnage of 3537grt, a length of 365ft, a beam of 43ft 6in and a service speed of 12 knots”. She took the name of fleet-owner Sir Donald Currie’s estate in Scotland. She was transferred to the Intermediate service in 1890 at the time of the Bents’ trip to Cape Town in 1890/1, under Master H. H. Broadfoot. Surplus to requirements when the companies she was linked to merged in March 1900, she was sold to Elder Dempster & Co. in 1901 for their Bristol to Jamaica service and in the July of the same year chartered to Franco-Canadian Steam Navigation Co. for their Dunkirk – Bordeaux – Quebec run. 1902 saw her being was sold on again, to the Khedivial Mail Steamship & Graving Dock Co. of London, renamed the ‘Ismailia’. She was sold on to Soc. Armatrice Radivo-Frausin of Trieste, renamed, alas, the ‘Brunette’ and broken up in Italy in 1923.
The Bents’ Vessels No.2 – February 5-6 1885: The Lloyd Austriaco Saturno
February 1885 – en route from Alexandria for the Dodecanese. “Thursday February [5th]. I am writing against much rumbling of the screw of the Austrian Lloyd S.S. ‘Saturn’. We are having as calm a voyage as needs be but not without its hopes and fears. We [had] left Cairo on Monday evening at 6… and reached Alexandria at [time illegible]. We were greeted with the unpleasant intelligence that the Austrian would not call at Rhodes this week, so we went to bed with the half formed intention of going to Smyrna by a Khedivieh ship and trusting to luck for a passage to Rhodes. However the belated ‘Saturn’ came in early next morning and we left at 4 on Wednesday afternoon… Yesterday it looked quite black all round when we embarked and [it] began to rain and the harbour was full of gulls – 17 sitting in a row on the rope mooring a ship near. So we felt very gloomy knowing that if it were too stormy we should not touch at Rhodes but be carried to Smyrna. But the sun came out and all became bright as we steamed off ‘adagio adagio’.” [Mabel Bent’s Travel Chronicles, Vol. 1, page 67, Oxford, Archaeopress, 2006]
The Bents arrived below Rhodes’ Old Town on Friday, 6 February 1885.
The Austrian Lloyd and the Khedivieh Steam Navigation companies connected the major ports of the Eastern Mediterranean in the late 19th century. Austrian Lloyd started steamship operations in 1836 based at Trieste, which was then under Austrian rule. Initially traded to the Adriatic and later extended to the rest of the Mediterranean, India and the Far East. The passenger/cargo iron-screw steamer the SS ‘Saturno’ was built for the Austrian Lloyd Steam Navigation Co. on the Clyde (launched 11/01/1868) by William Denny & Bros at the Dumbarton, Leven Yard (126). The engine builder was Denny & Company, Dumbarton (and for the enthusiast, with the spec: 1×4 bladed screw, inverted D.A. surface condensing (54 & 54 – 36 in) and 194 nhp). She had a gross tonnage of 1761 (net: 1197) and was 274.6 ft in length, a breadth of 34.0 ft, and with a draft depth of 18.0 ft. She was sold for breaking up in 1908 but there is evidence in her notes that she continued in some sort of service until 1910.
The Bents’ Vessels No. 3 – Early March 1884: The Hellenic Steam Navigation Company (Elliniki Atmoploia) ΕΛΠΙΣ (ELPIS)
In early March 1884, the Bents are on Cycladic Tinos, waiting for the steamer ΕΛΠΙΣ (ELPIS) from Syros to take them (from the tiny harbour at Όrmos Isterníon) to Andros: “The ‘Praetor’ or agent of steamers gave us coffee and jam and we then rode down a fearfully steep road to the sea. There was a great crowd of 3rd class passengers all seated on the sand and one poor cabin where coffee could be had. The sea was very rough but we had the certainty of the steamer as we could see her come out of Syra harbour. She was a very large one, the ΕΛΠΙΣ, formerly the Truthful. We had a great difﬁculty in getting on board and also in getting off on account of the sea. We had an excellent luncheon and slept below for a couple of hours, having had too much fresh air on the mountains to care to be on deck. We landed at the chora of Andros about. A woman on the boat was so alarmed that she kept hold of Theodore’s hand till she seized his leg and kept that.” (Mabel Bent’s travel Chronicles, Vol. 1, page 48)
The ELPIS was bought by Elliniki Atmoploia, Syros, in 1884. Originally the British screw steamer ‘Truthful’ of Liverpool, she was a cargo vessel modified to accommodate passengers for routes around the Greek islands and some mainland coastal ports. She was built in Barrow in 1877. In 1893, Elliniki Atmoploia went bankrupt and the ELPIS was transferred to the McDowall & Barbour Co. But she had a tragic end, showing how precarious such early steamers could be in bad weather and what risks the Bents regularly faced. In November 1904, on her way in the Black Sea from Burgas to Varna she foundered in a gale with the loss of all hands and passengers, as reported by the San Francisco Call (Vol. 96, No. 178, 25 Nov. 1904): “Seventy-Seven Persons Perish in a Shipwreck: Hope for the safety of the Greek steamship Elpis is abandoned. Constantinople, Nov. 24 : The Greek steamship Elpis, long overdue, is now regarded as lost. It is believed she sank in a recent gale in the Black Sea and that her entire crew and a number of passengers were lost, a total of seventy-seven persons.”
Original vessel specifications: Rigging: iron single screw steamer; 1 deck; 2 tiers of beams; 4 cemented bulkheads; double bottom aft 79 tons; Forward Peak Tank; Tonnage: 956 tons gross, 806 under deck and 606 net; Dimensions: 240.2 feet long, 30 foot beam and holds 16.1 feet deep; Poop 53 feet; Forecastle 42 feet; Bridge Deck 60 feet; Propulsion: compound engine with 2 inverted cylinders of 33 & 63 inches diameter respectively; stroke 36 inches; 160 horsepower.
The Bents’ ships to follow (now and then Mabel fails to record the names of vessels, so this is not a complete list):